Obama keeps his campaign mega-donors close — in White House jobs

By Kase Wickman
Wednesday, June 15, 2011 10:04 EDT
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Despite running his presidential campaign on banning former lobbyists — and their special interests influence — from the marble halls of his administration, President Barack Obama has hired about 80 percent of his mega-donors (those who bundled $500,000 or more for him during the campaign) to “key administration posts.”

The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News combed through campaign finance records and pulled several other surprising statistics about just who is landing in the White House.

For example, Donald Gips, a telecom executive who bundled more than $500,000 for the future president, was put in charge of hiring at the White House, and then made ambassador to South Africa in mid-2009. Meanwhile, the telecom company Gips left but still held stock in received millions of dollars in stimulus-funded government contracts for broadband projects in six states.

Indeed, 24 of Obama’s ambassador nominees were bundlers, and half of them raised more than $500,000.

While these hiring statistics could be surprising to constituents, for politically-focused academics and insiders, hiring people with big wallets — and the influence attached to them — is commonplace.

“Any president who says he’s going to change this is either hopelessly naïve or polishing the reality to promise something other than can be delivered,” Paul Light, a New York University professor and expert on presidential transitions said. “At best it’s naïve and a little bit of a shell game.”

Public Citizen, a group that advocates for transparency in government, worked with iWatch to provide data for their reporting. A comparison of Obama’s administration to its predecessor — that of President George W. Bush — showed that while Obama has hired nearly 200 bundlers in the two years he’s been in office, Bush hired approximately that same number in the entire eight years of his presidency.

Michael Caplin, a consultant in Virginia who raised about $200,000 for Obama, now serves on the Commission on Presidential Scholars, and sees nothing wrong with that fact.

“Clearly if someone raised a million dollars for your campaign, you tend to get a phone call returned,” Caplin said. “If that person is truly excellent, but also raised money for your campaign, should that disallow you to serve? … I didn’t feel like they were putting coin collectors in charge of Homeland Security. I haven’t seen one appointment yet where I thought, ‘Man this is embarrassing.’”

The White House agreed.

“In filling these posts, the administration looks for the most qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “Being a donor does not get you a job in this administration, nor does it preclude you from getting one.”

Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
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